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What to wear at a standing desk

Published Dec. 17, 2015

Lisa Raphael, who leads the editorial team at the website Brit & Co, tried out a standing desk in the hope it would help her scoliosis and back pain.

She took instantly to her standing desk. What she wore while working at one, however, required some careful consideration.

"Fashion and the standing desk is a give and take," Raphael said.

She soon realized that her outfit, like it or not, would command extra attention at the new station. This gave her a chance to highlight a new favorite piece.

"I'm a big jumpsuit fan," she said, "and it's on full display at my standing desk and I get a lot of compliments on it."

Raphael, 29, had read the oft-cited 2013 Harvard Business Review article that details the perils of a sedentary lifestyle.

According to the American Cancer Society's 24-year Cancer Prevention Study II, women who sat for at least six hours a day had a 37 percent greater risk of death during the study's duration compared with those who sat for three hours or less; for men, it was 17 percent.

Enter the standing desk, which was once relegated to the sort of ergonomics enthusiasts who invest in kneeling chairs, and now is so mainstream that companies like Chevron and Apple offer standing or adjustable desks. Ikea even makes one, the Bekant.

With the rise (literally) of the standing desk, Raphael and other white-collar workers are considering how to dress for it, even re-evaluating their choices of what they wear to the office entirely.

"Pencil skirts are easier to stand in than sit," she said. "If you're wearing tights, you never have that awful elastic waistband situation. And I don't have to deal with sitting down and making sure my underwear isn't showing."

Celeste Moreno, 47, lives in Los Angeles, where she is an animator. She suggested that standing desks are popular on the West Coast because people spend so much time in cars and "we're a body-obsessed culture."

She favors wearing linen dresses by Vivienne Westwood to work, which are well suited to her standing desk. But no longer is lingerie optional, she said: "Underwear with shorter skirts is key."

More common than underwear issues, perhaps, are shoe issues.

At the standing desk, on your feet, "for the most part you can wear anything you'd want to with the exception of high heels," said Colin Ferry, the vice president for marketing at Ergo Depot, a manufacturer of ergonomic products in Portland, Ore. "A lot of women will kick off heels and stand barefoot," he said, "which is good for the human body."

But what is good for the body is not always good for fashion. It is difficult to imagine, for example, editors at Vogue replying to fashion-show invitations while barefoot.

Raphael has adopted the shoeless habit, but with some reservation.

"I'm from New York and used to dressing up for work," she said. "I'm a heel girl, so it's been a little bit of a transition. I come to work in heels and I'm in flats or sandals or bare feet. I have dressier shoes for meetings. There is a shoe village under my desk."

As a compromise between heels and sturdy comfort footwear, Chrysanthe Tenentes, 35, a consultant leading audience development for Yahoo News and Politics, often favors wedge heel clogs from the boutique No. 6 at her standing desk.

"I see the style reporters here standing," she said.

The standing desk "goes along with the trend of the flat being acceptable in the workplace," said William Graper, a fashion stylist.

"In terms of dress, I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so I love that you're not sitting and wrinkling everything you own," he said.

At a standing desk, new body parts may be on display. Be prepared, said Graper.

"I hope you have a great tailor and get pants to fit properly so they look nice on your butt," he said. "If you're worried about people seeing your butt, the thing to remember is that your butt's going to look better than if you sat on it all your life." (For those who wish to experiment, he added, "butt pads are big right now.")

Or you could just invest more energy in your glutes.

"There is a guy at work who has a treadmill desk," Moreno said. "That's a whole step further into niche office culture. I imagine sweating and tromping around all day would really affect fashion."

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